CicLAvia partners with LA restaurants so you can eat outdoors in style this summer

By Kathryn Barnes

California fully reopens on June 15. That means in most situations, there will be no more capacity limits, physical distancing, or mask mandates. But many people still feel more comfortable eating outdoors than indoors, so the City of LA is extending its Al Fresco program, which allows eligible restaurants to provide outdoor dining on sidewalks, parking lots, and streets.

CicLAvia, the nonprofit known for reimagining public spaces without cars, is partnering with the city to help restaurants spill into those outdoor spaces. So what are the roadblocks?

“Some neighborhoods in our city haven't been invested in where sidewalks have been widened, traffic has been calmed and slowed, the streets have been made walkable,” says Tafarai Bayne, chief strategist for CicLAvia. “Those neighborhoods that have not been invested in, it's harder to implement this kind of programming.”

Bayne says 1,400 restaurants are eligible for assistance with permitting and beautification through this program, which is focused on communities hardest hit by COVID-19 and its economic impacts, including Boyle Heights, Pacoima, Wilmington, and South LA.

“At the beginning [of the pandemic], we had no option to do Al Fresco dining,” says Marlene Bolanos, the owner of La Barbacha in Boyle Heights. 

La Barbacha now has space for more tables outdoors, after obtaining permits and getting approval from nearby neighbors. Photo by Marlene Bolanos.

The restaurant sits along Cesar Chavez Avenue. At first, Bolanos was only able to add a few tables on the sidewalk right outside the door. After receiving permits from the city and approval from their neighbors, she created a small outdoor patio along part of the street.

She wants to decorate and add umbrellas before summer heatwaves. It costs money, but if that’s what it takes to move forward, she says she’s willing to do it. 

Bayne says the city is hoping to make the Al Fresco program permanent and identify grant money in its next budget to help small businesses improve their outdoor space.